At the McKinney City Council meeting on Tuesday night, nearly half of the relatively full audience sitting 6 feet apart showed up maskless. One anti-mask protester drove the point home in an Unmask Texas shirt, while another brought a poster board with scientific evidence about the efficacy of masks that he intended to present to the McKinney City Council.
It was a dangerous move given that the president, who has refused for months to wear a mask, had just contracted COVID-19 and had to be flown to the hospital. In fact, several White House staff members and senior Republican officials who had been in contact with the president have now contracted the virus, including Stephen Miller, Kayleigh McNany, Hope Hicks, and Kellyanne Conway.
Others in attendance, however, sat on the outskirts of the council room, or on the left side, wearing masks. A quick camera view of the audience showed a fairly clean divide between the masked and the unmasked; they had chosen their sides, left and right, and kept to their own.
Before the invocation, Mayor George Fuller addressed the crowd with a pointed question:
“Obviously we have a lot of people without masks on. Everyone understands there’s an executive order by the governor that requires masks be worn in buildings, I’m assuming there is a desire to have just a complete disregard for that, is that accurate?”
“Can you show us the executive order?” asked an anti-mask protester in the crowd. “It’s obvious a statement is being made.”
The anti-mask protesters had attended to discuss wearing masks and to protest what they felt was a violation of their rights, despite the fact that they are violating the rights of others by not wearing one. One maskless man had come prepared with a presentation on why masks that are not N95s are ineffective. So when Mayor Fuller asked them to don masks, which staff had available, there was immediately resistance.
With the air of a school teacher reigning in a class fresh from recess, Mayor Fuller read the Governor’s order in its entirety.
Still the anti-mask protesters did not don masks.
One anti-mask protester pointed out that they have civil liberties. They did not want to wear masks and they were six feet apart, even though the CDC recently reported that virus is airborne and especially contagious indoors beyond the 6-feet social distance.
The first 20 minutes of the meeting, before the invocation, were consumed with arguments between Mayor Fuller, Council member La'Shadion Shemwell, and protesters who had arrived to speak out against Gov. Abbott's mask order. While they felt it was their right to speak without wearing a mask, Mayor Fuller pointed out that it was a violation of the law, and that they had to comply before they could speak or leave the room and come back when it was their turn.
"Can you respect your fellow citizens enough to do that?” he asked.
“No,” an anti-mask protester called from the audience. “I respect the Constitution.”
In response, despite Fuller's attempts to stop him, Shemwell called the anti-mask protesters "hypocrites," pointing out that had it been Black Lives Matter protesters talking about their Constitutional rights, "you’d be calling them thugs."
Finally, Mayor Fuller decided to hold the meeting anyway. Though he called the anti-mask protesters' actions disrespectful to those who complied, he did not kick anyone out of the room. Instead, he turned to the other citizens in the meetings.
“For those here, let me say I’m so sorry, there’s vulnerable people here and I’m sorry that there’s some people who don’t seem to give a shit,” he said, and then apologized for cursing.
The council's business of the day included proclamations that established Annual Arbor Day, Oct. 24, and that October will be National Community Planning Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Fire Prevention Month.
However, when public comments opened, it became clear that wearing masks was still the dominant topic of conversation and the protesters would not be distracted.
“We aren’t selfish, we are peacefully protesting,” one of the first anti-mask protesters to comment said. “These are my friends and I consider them patriots.”
Another said that she never was interested in city government until the mask order and its “restrictions on liberty.” Her children, she said, no longer see people smiling. “What my son sees in all the masks is fear … he can’t tell who’s open to conversation or who would rather be left alone. Our children are going to grow up feeling like McKinney isn’t safe.” She also asked the mayor to remove the mask order.
The last woman to speak, however, had a different opinion on the mask ordinance.
“I wear a mask because I’m pro-life, not just pro-birth, pro-life for everyone in here, pro-life for the vulnerable population, pro-life for the boys in blue population, pro-unborn children in this room currently,” she said. “Stop being....” (and used a word we probably shouldn't repeat here).
After public comments, Mayor Fuller took a moment to contemplate his next move.
“I love a peaceful protest, I think it’s great,” he began. “What happened is not that.” He said that regardless of what individuals think about the usefulness of masks, one cannot pick and choose what ordinances and laws to follow. He could have ejected everyone who did not comply from the chamber.
“I probably should have,” he said. “I probably should not have unilaterally decided not to enforce something that is the law of this land by way of ordinance. That’s probably the mistake I made.”
He asked if the people there truly respected the police and whether if he had sent the police to ask them to leave, they would have respected them in that case. He then turned the floor to Shemwell.
“Nicely said and nicely done,” Shemwell commended him and looked at the crowd. “Leave. Cowardly. Thank you.”
“Shemwell,” Mayor Fuller tried interjecting.
But Shemwell, who is facing a recall election in November, did not care and continued. “Cowards. Cowardly …cowardly,” he repeated as angry anti-mask protesters got up and stormed out. “You call yourselves patriots. Cowardly.
“You want to protest the governor’s order? Go to Austin and protest the governor’s order. Because the governor is not going to stand down from his ordinance,” he continued. “He'll have you arrested when you don't follow it. So how strongly are you convicted about what you feel? You’re in here about an order that we didn't create. That's the governor's executive order. If the shoe was on the other foot and a bunch of Black people came in here and violated whatever law it was, you’d say, ‘Comply.’ Hypocrites.”